Two journalists granted provisional release

New York, April 19, 2004—Mathurin Constant Momet, publication director of the independent daily Le Confident, and Le Confident Editor-in-Chief Patrick Bakwa, were granted provisional release from police custody on April 17 after being held for about 24 hours. However, the two were today charged with criminal defamation, after Pierre Ouadda-Diale, a local lawyer, filed suit last week.

The charges relate to a report about a press conference by Maximilien Boganda, a Central African businessman. Le Confident reported that during the press conference, Boganda criticized his former lawyer, Ouadda-Diale, and the CAR’s judicial system.

Local sources said the two were summoned to the police station on the morning of Friday, April 16, because Ouadda-Diale filed defamation charges against them. Momet told a local radio station on Friday afternoon that the state prosecutor was keeping them in detention pending the return of Boganda, who is currently in France, to confirm or deny the statements attributed to him.

Momet and Bakwa, who were released from detention on Saturday, answered a summons to the gendarmerie in the capital, Bangui, today, and were then taken to the Prosecutor’s office, according to CPJ sources. They were informed that their trial would take place on Friday.

“We are deeply concerned that these journalists still face criminal charges for their work,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “We urge the government of Central African Republic to make good on its promises to decriminalize press offences.”